We Laughed About My Sexual Assault

It took me decades to realize it wasn’t funny at all.

Christine Schoenwald
Jan 5 · 4 min read
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Photo by Savannah Class on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: this article contains descriptions of sexual assault that may not be suitable for all readers. Fearless community, please read with care.

I was sexually assaulted in the middle of a sunny day, and no one, not even myself, took it seriously.

This was back when Hollywood was sketchy but full of interesting people (i.e., con artists, failed actors, prostitutes, pimps, and the mentally struggling). I worked at a bank on Hollywood Blvd, right in the middle of Hollywood’s inherent chaos.

I never felt as if my life was in danger, even when waiting for the early-evening bus in partial darkness though I held my purse old-lady-close to me and wore running shoes in case I needed to sprint to safety.

One day, two friends and I were crossing Hollywood Blvd on our way to lunch. Since there were three of us in the intersection, we walked in a staggered triangle — my friends in front and me a short distance behind.

We dodged the people coming from the opposite direction, and they, in turn, stepped out of our way — the social-protocol of a crowded crosswalk. I noticed a guy coming directly at me as if he was playing his own game of chicken. I avoided eye contact and tried to maneuver away from him.

I’m almost pathologically non-confrontational and had already given money to someone in need earlier in the day. I didn’t want to get into a crosswalk-argument over my lack of generosity, so I made sure to appear as someone who didn’t want to engage in any social interaction.

I was looking over the man’s head as he came closer to me. I hoped he'd pivot at the last minute, but instead of adjusting his path, he continued with a missile-like focus towards me.

When he was directly in front of me, he grabbed both my breasts with his hands, squeezed, and said, “Nice milk-suckers.”

The incident happened so fast that I barely had time to process it before the light changed. I didn’t want to be stuck in the intersection, having cars honking at me, so I did the only thing I could think to do, which was to mutter a thank-you and move on.

My friends witnessed this brief encounter, and when I made it to the corner, they laughed about it.

What did he call your breasts?

Milk suckers — that’s hilarious!

Why do these things always happen to you?

They didn’t ask me if I was okay, and I didn’t volunteer the information that he’d squeezed my breasts so hard, I was sure there’d be bruises on them, nor did I mention that I had lost my appetite and just wanted to go home and take a shower. Instead, I laughed along with them as if the most hilarious thing in the world had just happened.

This was Hollywood in the ’90s, long before the #MeToo Movement, and it was best to laugh it off as if it was nothing more than a harmless prank.

I needed to take control of my narrative, and the only way I could do that is by looking at it as a joke. Humor is closely related to pain, so it was easy to change my view of the situation.

I convinced myself that what happened to me wasn’t a big deal, and I stuffed down my uncomfortable feelings, turning the whole incident into a funny story to tell at parties.

As the years went on, my real memories about my assault, not the ones that were amusing or humorous, would rise to the surface. I’d remember the smell of old vomit permeating off the man as he approached me or how dirty his hands were as they roughly grabbed my breasts.

I’d force those memories back down, but they never completely disappeared. That’s the thing about trauma — it gets into your bones and feeds on your pain.

Lately, I’ve had time to re-examine my past experiences and look for the messages I missed. I’ve let myself recognize my suffering so that I may heal and have more empathy for myself and others.

Now I recognize never giving any consent and how he invaded my personal space, treated me like an object, abused, and disrespected me. And it’s never too late to stand up for ourselves, to confront the people who’ve hurt us, and to work through our pain.

The guy who assaulted me was a random stranger, so I’ll never know what I could have prevented if I had taken action. However, I can speak up now when something feels wrong to me and advocate for other women who need it — at the time they need it. I can forgive and show myself compassion for not reacting honestly when the assault happened.

The life lessons we need to learn often show up before we’re able to process them. Problem-solving takes perspective, and sometimes getting that perspective takes time. It’s never too late to search for clarity, make peace with the past, and learn how to stand up for yourself and others.

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories…

Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm. Christineschoenwaldwriter.com

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm. Christineschoenwaldwriter.com

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

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